Political influence in the Church of Sweden is still visible 20 years after it ceased to be a state church, Evangelical Focus
Sunday, September 19, Church of Sweden (Swedish Church) will vote in an election to the General Synod which has many similarities to a parliamentary election.
Both political parties and independent “nomination groups” participate in a system inherited from the time when the Lutheran Church was still a state church. That changed in 2000, and more and more there is one frustration over the influence of politicians in theological matters.
“The general population in Sweden may be culturally distant from the teachings of the Church, but they still seem to want to the church to fulfill its mission, which is not political but religious, ”he says Per Ewert, Director of the Clapham Institute, a Swedish Christian think tank.
Ewert, who is writing a doctoral dissertation on the political processes that shaped Sweden into the world’s most secular-individualistic nation, answered questions about Evangelical focus.
Per Ewert of the Swedish think tank Clapham Institut.
Question. Why is there such a large political representation in the Swedish church election and the general synod?
Response. The church election to the General Synod is a remnant of the system of a Lutheran state church, which was abolished in 2000. However, this even seemed to have sharpened the grip of especially the Social Democrats, who were very influential in the secularization of the state Church from within during the last century.
We still have three parties that formally participate in the church election, the Social Democrats, the Liberal Center Party and the nationalist Sweden Democrats (who in principle are only there to be an opposite front against the Social Democrats).
Some nomination groups (as they are called in the election) have been directly linked to, but now only loose, political parties. Only three groups are outside the political system: the theologically liberal open church, the type of common alternative POSK, and the evangelical group Fearless Church.
Q. What are the most important issues at stake in this year’s church election?
A. The most important issue at stake this year is that the Social Democrats and the liberal groups want to exclude all priest candidates who do not want to marry same-sex couples. However, the Conservatives and the main groups defend the rights of the Church and the clergy to follow their conscience and biblical tradition in this area.
Question: How has the Church traditionally responded to these efforts for political influence over the Church? What is the reaction this year?
A. Traditionally, bishops and other church leaders vehemently opposed the political ambitions to transform the Lutheran state church into just a spiritual branch of secular society and defended the right of the church to act according to its biblical basis.
“The pressure to adjust to the values of a secular worldview is strongest towards the Church of Sweden, but other Christian denominations in Sweden feel it as well”
Over time, though, the secular mindset took over from the 1950s onwards, by changing legislation and the composition of the General Synod and the bishops. By the disestablishment at the turn of the millennium, the Church had adopted the secular values of the political leadership. What is fascinating before this year’s church election is, however, that all living present and past archbishops have voiced open criticism against this outdated way of governing the Church through political parties.
Q. How does society in general and also specifically committed Bible-believing Christians see the future of the Church of Sweden?
A. The current system is a challenge not only for the Svenska kyrkan, but also for the evangelical free-church denominations.
The pressure to adjust to the values of a secular worldview is strongest towards the Church of Sweden, but other denominations in Sweden feel it as well. Therefore, the general view among the free churches is also that the political influences ought to be removed.
Most interesting, though, is the increasing frustration from large parts of secular society over this paradoxical system where non-believing politicians wish to be elected to the General Synod of a church whose beliefs they don’t share.
The general population in Sweden may be culturally distant to the teachings of the church, but they still seem to want the church to fulfil their mission which is not political, but religious.
A temple in Sweden. / V. Ajayi, Unsplash, CC0
Question: How many theologically conservative Christians are there in Sweden and to what extent are they members of the Church of Sweden or do they belong to the free evangelical churches?
A. The revival movement was strong in Sweden during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the Free Church movement is therefore still quite strong in Sweden, compared to other nations in northern Europe. This is perhaps partly due to the people’s desire to find other Christian movements outside the state Church of Sweden. The liberal communities, including the former state church, are rapidly losing members.
Bible-based or charismatic denominations mainly resist this declining trend, but they are still under strong pressure to follow secular ideals.
When it comes to power over the Church of Sweden, the biblical groups in the Church of Sweden are quite marginalized. If we look at real church life, however, these groups are much more alive than the secularized majority. For example, the charismatic and evangelical Oasis movement holds annual summer conferences with thousands of visitors.
In summary: the political and secularized structures may still have the political power, but some of this may hopefully change after Sunday’s church election. And the actual worship of the church still lives and thrives in other arenas beyond the hall at the General Synod.
Published in: Evangelical Focus – Europe
– Political influence in the Church of Sweden is still visible 20 years after it ceased to be a state church